Ivory Tower Writing #18: How many citations is enough?

This is a question I often get from my students, especially since I have a reputation for being a strict grader (to them, this is an understatement; I am known to be judicious (think Lawful Evil)).

Here’s the short answer to the question: it depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing for, and your current skill level. It is a complicated blend of these three factors, and it’s not easy to discern the contribution of each.

No, seriously, ask anybody and they won’t give you a straight answer to this question. I had to find my own sweet spot, but my sweet spot is either too much or too few according to reviewers. What other people deem “normal” may be excessive or not excessive enough.

Now, the long elaboration. Note that this should not be interpreted as an absolute guide; instead, think of it as one of many voices out there trying to advise you. It all comes back to you and (mostly) your professor’s judgement.

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Ivory Tower Writing #15: The art of summarizing

This post covers a simple how-to in writing summaries.

So, it seems you’ve been asked to summarize a specific book or article, either at the request of your professor or (gasp!) own initiative. Being able to summarize effectively is an important skill you need to learn early on, especially if in your field of study, you deal with a lot of text and reading.

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Ivory Tower Writing #14: On paraphrasing and quoting

This post covers the basic of paraphrasing and quoting.

When you’re writing your paper, you are often required to read either articles or books relevant to whatever it is you’re writing. And you will find ideas that you would like to use in your paper. But if you were to simply copy-paste them, that would be called plagiarism and it is a grave academic sin. So, how do you avoid committing this sin?

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Ivory Tower Writing #13: Knowing your enemy – types of papers and what to expect (part 2)

This post further explains the types of papers you may encounter during your university life and what to expect from them.

I’d like to continue on from where we left off at post #8 when I first discussed the types of papers that you may meet throughout your university life. This time, let’s focus on some of the more specific types of papers.

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Ivory Tower Writing #11: Writing a conclusive conclusion

This post covers some practices on how to write a conclusion that’s conclusive.

At this point, we’re almost done with the paper. You’ve fleshed out your ideas in paragraph after paragraph and you don’t have anything more to say. But wait, there’s still one part left: the conclusion.

Cue the groans.

“But I’ve already made my point! Why do I have to write more?”

Well, as I’ve said before, academic writing is a circular process. Like it or not, you have to write a conclusion. So, let’s get down to business.

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Ivory Tower Writing #10: Structuring your body

This post provides pointers on how to organize your ideas in the body of your paper.

Now that we’ve covered the introduction, it’s time for us to tackle the brunt of the writing work in the body of the paper. Let’s assume your introduction has been interesting enough so the readers want to read more. This is where you will have to organize your ideas in a meaningful manner and develop your argument to the fullest.

As usual, I won’t speak about how you ought to write; writing in an academic style is fairly straightforward and you are allowed to insert your personal style a bit. However, I will provide some pointers as to how you could organize your ideas so they make sense. We’ll cover paragraph structure and bit by bit, we’ll get to body structure.

Let’s get started.

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Ivory Tower Writing #9: Writing an inviting introduction

This post provides pointers on how to write an enticing introduction section for academic papers.

They say that first impressions are everything, and you don’t get a second chance at making first impressions. Such holds true for even academic papers. Your introduction is your first chance to hook readers into reading the rest of your paper, so you better work hard on it.

At this point, we have covered the general parts of the introduction, so let’s get to the actual writing. Also, because writing an inviting introduction is hard, this section is often written first and finished last.

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